The 2018 health ranking for Shawnee County showed substantial improvements in some categories, and while challenges are ongoing, the Shawnee County health officer was encouraged by the results.
The annual assessment done as part of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps is an important tool is keeping the pulse of how the county is doing, said Gianfranco Pezzino, Shawnee County health officer and strategy team leader for the Kansas Health Institute. He pointed to movement in the health factors ranking, in which Shawnee County jumped to 56 from 78 out of 103 counties last year.
"It changed by 22 positions, which is the highest positive change in the state," he said. "What gets me more excited, perhaps, is the impression that I get from the numbers, the individual measures that drive the ranking itself. When I look at the entire picture, overall, I get a picture of a county or community that's going in the right direction."
Even with positive news, Pezzino looks at the rankings, broken down into health outcomes and health factors with multiple smaller categories under each, and knows significant work remains to be done. One area in particular stood out for him, and that was the addition of race and ethnic data in this year's health rankings.
"There was no big surprise there, but one could also say it is a surprise when you actually see the numbers," he said. "We all know there are minority groups here, African American and Hispanic primarily, that are at a disadvantage in our community. When I see some of these numbers, that really brings it home."
Pezzino said findings for Kansas include:
• Infant mortality rate among black babies is 50 percent higher than among white babies.
• The percentage of babies who are born too small, or with low birth weight, is more than twice as high among black babies as white babies.
Although encouraged by seeing movement in some factors in Shawnee County, Pezzino said the county still ranks "not so good" in socio-economic factors even though it improved in an overall ranking to 70 from 81 last year.
Violent crime, which is the number of reported violent crime offenses per 100,000 population, was 440 for Shawnee County compared to a state value of 348. It stayed level with the 2017 report. The injury rate — number of injury deaths per 100,000 population — went up from 72 in 2017 to 77.
"There are reasons to celebrate and there are also reasons to roll up our sleeves and recognize that there are still groups of people in our community who are disadvantaged and are not getting a lot of benefits from the overall improvement we are seeing in the county as a whole," Pezzino said. "We need to be sure we do not leave these people behind. Our community will just be as strong as the weakest group of people."